Seven years in the making, David Aula’s production of Ian McEwan’s infamously incestual novel ‘The Cement Garden’, is gloriously inventive, playful and full of heart and hope. Set in the claustrophobic Waterloo Vaults, the adaptation tells the tale of four children through the eyes of the youngest Tom, here seen in the form of a puppet, the successive death of their two parents and the instinctive if not altogether normal coping mechanisms they use to survive.
The father (Christopher Webster) after his long-awaited death, receives an unseen ordinary burial; the mother (Victoria Gould) however, through the children’s inability to let the outside world in, is entombed in an ever-present box of cement in the basement of their family home. Through the acrobatic use of split-level staging the audience witness the eldest children, Jack, viscerally played by BAFTA rising star nominee George MacKay and Julie, played by the nymph-like Ruby Bentall, painstakingly drag their mother’s body down the stairs and hesitantly force it into the metal trunk.
George MacKay’s Jack is a torrent of sexual frustration, his innocence besmirched by a mixture of shame and longing for his elder sister Julie. We follow the anguish through his eyes which are constantly alert and ever-fixed on his sister. It is through Jack’s interactions with his younger brother Tom, intuitively puppeteered by the expressive David Annen, that Aula and Osborne successfully lift the page to the stage interweaving McEwan’s dialogue and descriptive narrative seamlessly.
There is an innate emotional intelligence shown by all the actors under the deft and sensitive direction of Aula, each and every counterpart of the ensemble commits with a primitive vigour to the depths and dangers of McEwan’s tale, climaxing in the jubilant liberation of Jack drenching himself in the rain, the first rain since their mother’s death and the purgative removal of all their clothes, shaking off their grief and the guilt that holds its hand.
The children’s safety net that they have formed through parental role play within the house is shattered when Julie’s boyfriend, a stereotypical snooker playing jock, Derek, discovers the secret of their mother’s entombment and consequentially the blurred lines of Jack and Julie’s relationship.
All four children, Jack, Julie, Sue- astutely played by Georgia Clarke-Day- and Tom gather on the bed to the sounds of police sirens wailing and their world crashing down. David Annen poignantly lets go of the boy puppet and the audience see him, alone, as the older affected Tom. The transference from innocence to exacting nostalgia is goose-bump inducing and not to be missed.
Aula’s production is profoundly explorative and leaves the audience questioning the lines of love and the boundaries it breaks.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 8th March 2014